“If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you jump too?” – Someone’s mom.
Following students to social networking sites like Facebook and alumni to LinkedIn are a pretty popular trend right now. The common refrain is, “You have to go where the students are to reach them.” But this pervasive refrain ignores a very powerful message embedded within that statement that says, “What we’re doing on the web right now doesn’t work for us, so we need a better way to get it to work for us.”
Extending that a bit further, it’s akin to saying that the telephones on campus aren’t working and we can’t call anyone, so we all bought cell phones so we could reach each other.
If the latter statement were true, someone would rush to fix the problem in a heartbeat and wouldn’t need to ask why it needed to happen. With the web? It’s still considered a piece of community property that no one wants to cede in a lot of places.
You can’t suffocate a message
It doesn’t last long for you to hold onto it, as if it belongs to you and no one else. You have to get it out. The problem is, social networking sites aren’t the venue for most institutional messages. It validates to students that “our web site is useless for the purpose of getting information, so just go to Facebook.” But if the third party site goes down, what do you do? Send them back to the institutional web site?
Colleges and universities with deep pockets or access to top talent can usually respond to these sorts of challenges faster than others, which is no big surprise. But using social networks can’t be viewed as a panacea, instead, we need to establish why we’re using them and adhere to that purpose. If web sites are rigid and inflexible, we need to fix them.
The reasons you shouldn’t invest your energy in a social networking presence for your institution:
On the other hand, a social network can be a great tool to:
The institutional web site has fully arrived as a “marketing tool” on many campuses and the uneasy balance between trying to reach the students of the future, while connecting to their parents, alumni and pretty much anyone else with a rooting interest in the school can be a difficult task at times, especially for smaller schools and community colleges.
You don’t have to go where the students are to reach them, you need to adapt your web strategy to reach them more effectively. There’s no better place to that than on your college’s own web site.